The towers of Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris

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April 15. 2019 – A fire broke out at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris and spread rapidly across the building. Within a few hours the spire and roofs sadly collapsed. Fortunately the towers of Notre-Dame were spared by the tragic incident.

As you can imagine, this article was written before the Great Fire of April 2019. We hope it will serve as a beautiful testimony of the lost splendour of Notre-Dame… As we’re writing these lines, we can only wish the historic sanctuary will be restored in the state it was before the fire, and yes with the restauration of Viollet-le-Duc’s iconic spire!


Climbing on the towers of Notre-Dame cathedral is a must-to-do thing when visiting monuments in Paris. At the heart of Paris on the Île de la Cité, the majestic and elegant Gothic cathedral lets visitors to reach the Chimera gallery and the top of the South tower. You’ll love the breathtaking views over the city and the company of eerie beasts. We went up there many times… my last visit took place on a sunny February day. Follow the guide!


The towers of Notre-Dame cathedral

The construction of the Gothic cathedral started in 1163 during the Middle Ages. Bishop Maurice de Sully laid the first stone of what is today one of Paris’ most famous monuments. It took almost 200 years to complete the sanctuary. Notre-Dame became a prototype of Gothic cathedrals in Europe.

The western façade of Notre-Dame dates back to the 13th century. Completion of the North Tower took place in 1240 and the South Tower in 1250. In the 19th century, architect Viollet-le-Duc undertook a great restoration of the cathedral.

Notre-Dame de Paris 04 © French Moments

West façade of Notre-Dame © French Moments

Enter the towers of Notre-Dame from rue du Cloître Notre-Dame

From the entrance on the rue du Cloître Notre-Dame (4th arrondissement), the ascent to the upper parts of the cathedral’s western façade takes place in different stages.

  • From the upper room of the north tower
  • to the Chimera gallery, and finally
  • to the top of the south tower.

There are exactly 387 steps (and no lift/elevator) to the top of the South Tower. All of them in spiral staircases.

The South and North Towers of Notre-Dame rise at an altitude of 69 metres. This is much lower than the spire at the crossing of the transept (96 m).

Notre-Dame de Paris Western Façade © French Moments

=> Get your ticket to the Towers of Notre-Dame <=


The entrance and the upper room of the North Tower

The entrance to the towers of Notre-Dame is located on Rue du Cloître Notre-Dame. This is just a few metres from the Place du Parvis (recently renamed Place Jean-Paul II).

The lower part of the tower is hardly decorated and has the rather austere appearance of a fortress.

Each bell tower is flanked by a polygonal turret pierced by loopholes that houses a spiral staircase which is used by the visitors.

The spiral staircase inside the towers of Notre-Dame © French Moments

The spiral staircase inside the towers of Notre-Dame © French Moments

My first advice: make sure you do not arrive too late in the morning or in the afternoon. On sunny days, the queue can be much longer than the one we came into. In winter, the ascent to the towers opens at 10am and we arrived at 9.45am – only 10 people were already queueing in front of us.

The long queue to the towers of Notre-Dame © French Moments

The long queue to the towers of Notre-Dame © French Moments

My second advice: But the good news is that you can book a tour of the cathedral that includes the ascent to the towers. This way you’ll skip the (long) queue and learn more about Notre-Dame from a fully licensed, English-speaking guide. => Book your visit! <=

?????? Unfortunately my advice are no longer apply… at least not before the end of the restoration works that could take years!

Up the upper room!

We started the visit by a short walk up the spiral staircase leads to the upper room of the North Tower. Situated at the same level as the organ gallery, the Gothic room features a fine eight action rib-vaulted ceiling. This is where the ticket counters and souvenir shop are found. Behind them, a little spiral staircase rises inside an openwork turret.

The upper room of Notre-Dame cathedral, Paris © French Moments

The upper room of Notre-Dame cathedral, Paris © French Moments


The Chimera Gallery

From the top of their balustrades, the chimeras and other gargoyles of Notre-Dame have watched over Paris while the city goes about its business.

The Chimera gallery (Galerie des Chimères) is arguably the most interesting feature to observe during the visit – apart from the spectacular views it offers over Paris. Situated 46 metres above the parvis, the gallery sits atop the colonnaded gallery. It links the north to the north towers by a series of balustrades. There are found the mysterious and eerie beasts known in French as ‘Les Chimères‘. The grotesque Chimera include all sorts of mythical and fantastic creatures: birds, beasts, half-human-half-beasts, monsters, all watching the people below and scanning all of Paris.

A recent addition…

Although they look like they have been sitting there since the Middle-Ages, the stone chimera are in fact a recent addition by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. The French architect was responsible for the restorations of the cathedral in the 19th century. They are part of a controversial restoration program which was initiated by the architect in 1845 and completed 25 years later.

The chimera of Notre-Dame © French Moments

The chimera of Notre-Dame © French Moments

The chimera of Notre-Dame © French Moments

Two chimera of Notre-Dame © French Moments

The chimera of Notre-Dame © French Moments

A bear and a stork © French Moments

The chimera of Notre-Dame © French Moments

A bird-shaped chimera © French Moments


Meet the two most-famous Chimera of Notre-Dame

One of the first chimera we encountered was the famous Stryge, a pensive horned creature.

Stryge the chimera, Notre-Dame © French Moments

Stryge the chimera, Notre-Dame © French Moments

Another famous Chimera is the goat-shaped one which looks out over the city of Paris and the Eiffel Tower:

The Goat-shaped chimera, Notre-Dame © French Moments

The Goat-shaped chimera, Notre-Dame © French Moments

The Goat-shaped chimera, Notre-Dame © French Moments

A closer look to the Goat-shaped chimera, Notre-Dame © French Moments

The old friend was photographed against the light… here is another photo we took a few years ago revealing his face:


The Chimera seen from the ground

Viewed from the ground, the Chimera look even more terrifying and with binoculars you will see more of them than when on the Chimera Galley (photos taken before the ascent):

The chimera of Notre-Dame © French Moments

The chimera of Notre-Dame seen from the ground © French Moments

The chimera of Notre-Dame © French Moments

Two chimera of Notre-Dame seen from the ground © French Moments

The chimera of Notre-Dame seen from the ground © French Moments

The Stryge chimera of Notre-Dame seen from the ground © French Moments

The chimera of Notre-Dame seen from the ground © French Moments

Frightening chimera of Notre-Dame seen from the ground © French Moments

The chimera of Notre-Dame seen from the ground © French Moments

The chimera of Notre-Dame seen from the ground © French Moments

The rich decoration of the Chimera Gallery

The decoration added by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century is very rich. Aside from the chimera, it features gargoyles, finials, sophisticated arcatures, tracery parapets crockets.

Towers of Notre-Dame © French Moments

Decorative features on Notre-Dame © French Moments

Towers of Notre-Dame February 2015 number 48 copyright French Moments

Decorative features, Towers of Notre-Dame © French Moments


Gargoyles of the North and South Towers of Notre-Dame

From the gallery can be seen other gargoyles perched from the North and South Towers (it is best to have a binocular to observe each little detail). These decorated waterspouts should not be confused with chimera as they are designed to convey water from a roof and away from the side of the cathedral:

Gargoyles of the Towers of Notre-Dame © French Moments

Gargoyles of the Towers of Notre-Dame © French Moments

Gargoyles of Notre-Dame © French Moments

A gargoyle – or is it a monster? © French Moments

Gargoyles of Notre-Dame © French Moments

A gargoyle at the top of the South Tower of Notre-Dame © French Moments

Gargoyles of Notre-Dame © French Moments

A gargoyle, Notre-Dame © French Moments

Gargoyles of Notre-Dame © French Moments

The gargoyles of Notre-Dame © French Moments


The view over Paris from the Chimera Gallery

The view over the roofs of Paris from the Chimera gallery is breathtaking. From the north to the south towers, the vista reveals most of the monuments of Paris: Sacré-Cœur of Montmartre, the City-Hall of Paris, the St. Jacques Tower, the whole Île de la Cité including the Sainte-Chapelle and the Palace of Justice, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe echoed by the Grande Arche de la Défense in the far distance, the bridges spanning River Seine, the Eiffel Tower, the neighbourhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Montparnasse Tower.

Photos of the view!

The Hôtel-Dieu and the vast complex of the Palace of Justice (including the Sainte-Chapelle), Place du Châtelet, St. Jacques Tower and in the distance the hill of Montmartre.

View from the towers of Notre-Dame, Paris © French Moments

The view from Notre-Dame’s towers © French Moments

The Place du Châtelet, St. Eustache Church, St. Jacques Tower and Sacré-Cœur in the distance.

View from the towers of Notre-Dame, Paris © French Moments

The Right Bank from Notre-Dame’s towers © French Moments

Views of Montmartre!

The hill of Montmartre and Sacré-Cœur basilica:

View from the towers of Notre-Dame, Paris © French Moments

The view to Montmartre © French Moments

The Sacré-Cœur basilica and St. Jacques Tower:

View from the towers of Notre-Dame, Paris © French Moments

The view from Notre-Dame’s towers © French Moments

Close up on the Sainte-Chapelle:

View from the towers of Notre-Dame, Paris © French Moments

The Sainte-Chapelle from Notre-Dame’s towers © French Moments

The dome of the Tribunal de Commerce on Île de la Cité and the Opéra Garnier in the background:

View from the towers of Notre-Dame, Paris © French Moments

The view from Notre-Dame’s towers © French Moments

The River Seine, the Grand-Palais, the Arc de Triomphe and the CBD of La Défense:

View from the towers of Notre-Dame, Paris © French Moments

The Grand-Palais and in the distance, the district of La Défense © French Moments

St. Sulpice Church in the 6th arrondissement:

View from the towers of Notre-Dame, Paris © French Moments

The church of St. Sulpice © French Moments

The roofs of Paris in the neighbourhood of St. Séverin-St. Nicolas Church (5th arrondissement):

View from the towers of Notre-Dame, Paris © French Moments

The view from Notre-Dame’s towers © French Moments

The picturesque Rue Saint-Julien next to the old church of St. Julien-le-Pauvre:

View from the towers of Notre-Dame, Paris © French Moments

The street of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre © French Moments

The dark-looking Montparnasse Tower (from its top terrace it has a great view back to Notre-Dame!):

View of Tour Montparnasse, Paris © French Moments

The Montparnasse tower © French Moments

Looking down at the bride and the bridegroom from the Chimera Gallery:

View from the cathedral, Paris © French Moments

The view from Notre-Dame’s towers © French Moments


To the top of the South Tower

The top of the South Tower is the best place to enjoy a 360 degree view over the whole of Paris. The view is spectacular and embraces the River Seine and its many bridges and banks (listed as World Heritage by Unesco).

At the top of the South Tower, Notre-Dame cathedral © French Moments

At the top of the South Tower, Notre-Dame cathedral © French Moments

The top of the North Tower which is not accessible by the public:

The North Tower of Notre-Dame © French Moments

The North Tower of Notre-Dame © French Moments

The Sainte-Chapelle:

View of Sainte-Chapelle Paris © French Moments

The view from Notre-Dame’s towers © French Moments

The Louvre and the green roof of La Madeleine Church:

View of the Louvre, Paris © French Moments

View of the Louvre and the green roof of La Madeleine © French Moments

The Louvre and the Ferris Wheel and Obelisk of Place de la Concorde:

View of the Louvre and Tuileries, Paris © French Moments

The view from Notre-Dame’s towers © French Moments

Views of the Seine!

The little dome of the Institut de France and the bridges of River Seine:

View of the Seine, Paris © French Moments

The banks and bridges of the River Seine © French Moments

Looking to the West to La Défense:

View of West Paris © French Moments

The view from Notre-Dame’s towers © French Moments

Sainte-Clotilde basilica, the Palais de Chaillot (Trocadéro) and in the distance Mont Valérien in Suresnes:

View of Chaillot and Mont Valérien © French Moments

Towards the Palais de Chaillot and Mont Valérien © French Moments

The view towards the Eiffel Tower beyond the 6th and 7th arrondissement:

View of Paris © French Moments

The view of the Left Bank © French Moments

The church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the gilded dome of Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower:

View of the Eiffel Tower © French Moments

Saint-Germain-des-Près, the Invalids and the Eiffel-Tower © French Moments

The Rue Saint-Julien in the 5th arrondissement:

View of rue Saint-Julien le Pauvre, Paris © French Moments

The view from Notre-Dame’s towers © French Moments

The façades of Rue Saint-Julien:

View of rue Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, Paris © French Moments

The façades of rue Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre © French Moments

The crossing of the transept and the 96 metre high spire. Beyond lies the Île Saint-Louis and the Marais district:

View of the cathedral's spire © French Moments

The Ile de la Cité and the Right Bank © French Moments

View of the cathedral's spire © French Moments

The crossing of the transept © French Moments


Practical info about the towers of Notre-Dame!

Our advice is to climb the towers of Notre-Dame in the morning when the sun lights up the western part of Paris and most of the city’s monuments.

?? As I wrote above you can book a tour of the cathedral that includes the ascent to the towers. This way you’ll skip the (long) queue AND learn more about Notre-Dame from a fully licensed, English-speaking guide. => Click on this link to book your visit! <=

?? If you can’t climb to the towers (remember there’s no lift!) and still want to visit the cathedral, you can book an English-speaking visit through this link.

>> ATTENTION! Due to the Great Fire of April 2019 all access to the towers is closed. It might take several years of restoration work before the public can get access to the towers of Notre-Dame. <<


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Discover the Towers of Notre-Dame, Paris © French Moments


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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

8 Comments

  1. Great presentation of the Norte Dame cathedral. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I will climb the towers tomorrow. Thank you and I will probably come back here to see more of France. It is a beautiful country and full of history.
    Noemi de Vera RNBC Ph.D.
    Tucson AZ. USA

    • Thank you Beth for your feedback! And the funny thing is that my objective was originally bought for a film camera… somehow I learnt how to use it on my digital one! Next time you climb on Notre-Dame and publish your photos, give me a shout so I can see them too! 🙂

  2. This is so wonderful. I always come back to your posts when I miss Paris too much. Climbing the Notre Dame is on for my next visit. Thanks for the wonderful posts. I visited Annecy after your post on Annecy

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